School can be a really challenging time for children with dyslexia, and I’m thankful that nowadays it can be spotted early, and that there’s great support in place within schools to help children and parents. To support Dyslexia Awareness Week, here’s an article by Dyslexia Action on how to spot the common signs or indicators of dyslexia, and what you can do to get your child the support they need. 

What are the common signs of dyslexia?

About 60% of dyslexic people have phonological difficulties and struggle to sort out the sounds within words. This means that they have problems with reading, writing and spelling. The majority of dyslexic children have difficulty with language, memory and sequencing processes of basic mathematics.

General indicators of dyslexia:

Dyslexia can affect different people in different ways and its effects can range from mild to severe.

The list below provides an overview of the types of difficulties a dyslexic person may have at different ages and may be used as a guide to spotting indicators of dyslexia. It is not an exhaustive list, and it is not intended as a screening tool or diagnostic assessment. If you are worried that you, your partner or your child may be dyslexic, you should contact your nearest centre to arrange an assessment.

Ages seven to 11:

  • Seems bright in some ways but unexpectedly struggles in others
  • Other members of the family have similar difficulties
  • Has difficulties carrying out three instructions in sequence
  • Struggles to learn sequences such as days of the week or the alphabet
  • Is a slow reader or makes unexpected errors when reading aloud
  • Often reads a word, then fails to recognise it further down the page
  • Struggles to remember what has been read
  • Puts letters and numbers the wrong way: for example, 15 for 51, b for d or “was” for “saw”
  • Has poor handwriting and/or struggles to hold the pen/pencil correctly and/or learn cursive writing
  • Spells a word several different ways
  • Appears to have poor concentration
  • Struggles with mental arithmetic or learning times tables
  • Seems to struggle with maths and/or understanding the terminology in maths: for example, knowing when to add, subtract or multiply
  • Has difficulties understanding time and tense
  • Confuses left and right
  • Can answer questions orally but has difficulties writing the answer down
  • Has trouble learning nursery rhymes or songs
  • Struggles with phonics and learning the letter to sound rules
  • Seems to get frustrated or suffers unduly with stress and/or low self-esteem
  • Struggles to copy information down when reading from the board
  • Needs an unexpected amount of support with homework and struggles to get it done on time
  • Is excessively tired after a day at school

Ages 12 to adult

Many older children and adults will remember having similar difficulties to those listed above and some may still apply into adulthood, but some additional issues for older children through to adults might include:

  • Difficulties taking notes
  • Difficulties planning and writing essays, letters or reports
  • Difficulties reading and understanding new terminology
  • Quality of work is erratic
  • Difficulties revising for examinations
  • Struggles to communicate knowledge and understanding in exams
  • Feels that the effort put in does not reflect performance or results
  • Forgets names and factual information, even when familiar
  • Struggles to remember things such as a personal PIN or telephone number
  • Struggles to meet deadlines
  • Struggles with personal organisation (finances/household, arrives at lessons with the wrong books, forgets appointments)
  • Difficulties filling in forms or writing cheques
  • Only reads when necessary and never for pleasure
  • Develops work avoidance tactics to disguise difficulties and/or worries about being promoted/taking professional qualifications
  • Difficulties become exacerbated when under pressure of time

What causes dyslexia?

Dyslexia is now firmly established as a congenital and developmental condition. Its cause has not been fully confirmed but the effect is to create neurological anomalies in the brain. These anomalies bring about varying degrees of difficulty in learning when using words, and sometimes symbols.

Dyslexia can also be acquired by people who have lost some aspect of their literacy skills as a result of brain injury or where an illness such as otitis media (glue ear) has impeded normal literacy skills’ development.  Some cases of acquired dyslexia display unusual types of difficulties with literacy and therefore require careful diagnostic assessment and specialised teaching and support programmes.  Very understandably, people with acquired dyslexia can be in need of a high degree of support and counselling.  Their educational needs are usually long-term and the priority aim is for them to see themselves making progress.

Can dyslexia be cured?

Each dyslexic person’s difficulties are different and vary from slight to very severe disruption of the learning process.  There is no total cure but the effects of dyslexia can be alleviated by skilled specialist teaching and committed learning. On the positive side there is a hypothesis that the neurological anomalies also give some dyslexic people visual, spatial and lateral thinking abilities that enable them to be successful in a wide range of careers.

At what age does dyslexia become a problem?

Because dyslexia is neurologically-based, children are born with dyslexia, but it is when they begin to learn using words, and sometimes other symbols, that it becomes a noticeable problem.

Are girls and boys affected equally?

Recent research indicates that boys and girls are equally affected but our data suggests that three times as many boys as girls receive additional teaching because of their dyslexia.

How many dyslexic people are there?

Somewhere between four and five percent of the population. It is estimated that there are about 375,000 pupils in the UK with dyslexia and a total of some two million people who are severely affected.

Does dyslexia cause behavioural problems?

Some dyslexic children have behavioural problems which may be a result of, but not caused by dyslexia. Behavioural problems usually improve when the right kind of teaching for reading, writing, spelling and basic maths is provided. 

Does having dyslexia mean a limited career future?

Not at all. Each dyslexic person has her/his own pattern of strengths and weaknesses. Many enjoy lateral thinking abilities and shine in such fields as the arts, creativity, design and computing. What they need is to be identified and taught, to enable them to release their talents in wide-ranging careers. Many people with dyslexia have influenced our world today, would it surprise you to know that Sir Richard Branson, Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs are dyslexic?

Why be assessed?

Diagnosis of dyslexia can be a huge weight off your mind and allow you to access the help and support needed. With the right help and support, dyslexia needn’t become a barrier to success.

Why is re-assessment necessary?

Some regulatory bodies require updated assessment information, for example eligibility for Disabled Students’ Allowance. Also, review assessments are useful to make judgements on rate of improvement and response to support programmes.

In particular, young children’s development can change relatively rapidly and therefore their current strengths and weaknesses need to be appraised to ensure that support being given is relevant.

How do I book an assessment with Dyslexia Action?

You should contact your nearest Dyslexia Action Centre who will be able to take care of all the arrangements for you.

Can I get help from my child’s school?

If you are concerned that your child may be dyslexic, it is a good idea to discuss your concerns with your child’s class teacher. You can also arrange an appointment with the schools SENCO (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator), whom you can ask to investigate your concerns and discuss whether they feel a referral to a Local Authority or independent psychologist for an assessment is necessary.

If you do decide to have your child assessed, it can be beneficial to maintain a good dialogue with the school and, if appropriate, involve them in the process as much as possible. However, it is your choice whether or not to involve the school or other third parties.

What does assessment involve?

Firstly you will be asked to complete a questionnaire. This will provide some background information about yourself / your child. If you are the parent of a child being assessed you may also need to ask your child’s school to complete a questionnaire.

The assessment lasts up to 2 hours during which time the psychologist or specialist teacher will conduct a series of different tests that give the assessor a full picture of strengths and weaknesses specific to the individual and their chronological age.

These include tests, for example, for: spelling and reading, verbal reasoning (understanding), comprehension, memory, processing speed, phonological awareness (sound knowledge), maths, writing speed and more.

The assessor should be able to offer you a conclusive evaluation of their key findings at the end of the assessment but a full report will be completed that will detail all results and outcomes.

What happens after the assessment?

You should receive a full written report within 3 weeks following the assessment. If your assessment has been paid for by your employer both you and your employer will receive reports. No confidential information of a personal nature will be included in the report that is sent to your employer.

It is important that you have the opportunity to discuss the findings of the assessment with either the assessor or a professional who can offer you further advice and guidance. Included in the cost of your assessment is a half hour post assessment consultation with the Centre Principal or Senior Teacher.

How will the assessment be of benefit?

The assessment will provide in depth information about your child’s strengths and weaknesses in connection with the difficulties they are experiencing and is the first step in providing diagnostic information that will be useful for your child’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) and support systems.

If the assessment confirms dyslexia or other Specific Learning Difficulty what happens next?

If the assessment indicates that the subject would benefit from specialist support the assessor will advise on what in their professional opinion will best address the needs of the individual. Dyslexia Action offers support services for individual of all ages and as such you can either discuss this at your consultation appointment or contact your local Centre to find out more.

It is important to be aware that while you may suspect dyslexia there are a large number of reasons why someone might have difficulties with literacy and/or present some of the other difficulties associated with dyslexia.

Is there anything I can do at home to help?

Dyslexia Action has developed a number of resources that can be used by teachers or at home to help develop literacy skills.

The DIY Readers’ Support Pack for parents has been developed by Dyslexia Action (formerly the Dyslexia Institute) with parents in mind. However, it will prove a very useful resource for teaching assistants. It takes into account extensive research evidence about the best way to support children who struggle from the very beginning to ‘catching on’ with reading.

Active Literacy Kit (ALK)

The Active Literacy Kit is designed to support all children of 7 years and over who experience literacy difficulties, whether dyslexic or not.

Units of Sound

Now everyone with access to a computer can learn to read. Units of Sound is a proven tool for teaching hard-to-reach students in schools, colleges and community centres. Its sister programme Units of Sound: Literacy that fits allows you to use this excellent resource at home. At last parents can ‘do’ something to help their children who need a boost with their literacy

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What happens if the assessment does not indicate dyslexia?

A significant number of people we assess are found not to be dyslexic and therefore the individual/parent should be aware that they/their child may not be dyslexic.

All of the pyschologists that work for Dyslexia Action are consultants and they are not direct employees of Dyslexia Action. This means that the assessor is independent and the outcome of the assessment and any further recommendations will be based on the assessor’s individual professional opinion. They will provide a detailed profile of strengths and weaknesses and provide advice on ways to cope with your difficulties no matter what the cause.

Dyslexia Action is a website dedicated to improve lives through education.